State school board hears renewal application from Rowan-Salisbury Schools

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 2, 2018

RALEIGH — Rowan-Salisbury Schools administrators are filled with tentative hope after a State Board of Education meeting about the district becoming a renewal school system.

The board on Wednesday received information about Rowan-Salisbury’s plan to implement charter-like flexibilities over the next few years. A vote to grant final approval will be held today.

There’s little fear that the proposal will fail, however. Board of Education members gave glowing reviews at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think it went well. It appeared that we had unanimous support, which was very exciting,” RSS Superintendent Lynn Moody said.

Should the plan be approved, Rowan-Salisbury Schools will have almost complete local control of its budget, calendar, curriculum and staffing — flexibilities that are normally offered only to charter schools. Rowan-Salisbury is the only district in the state to be offered this opportunity and would be the first charter-like district in North Carolina’s history.

The N.C. General Assembly passed the renewal bill on June 14. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education decided to push forward on the opportunity on June 28, then submitted a strategic plan to the State Board of Education.

Wednesday, the board heard a rundown of the plan and the state Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee recommended approval.

“It’s very well thought out and very organized,” said Nancy Barbour, a committee member.

The board invited Moody to answer questions and to talk about the district’s vision for becoming a renewal school system. Moody emphasized that the opportunity would be breaking ground and that she and others expect a few bumps in the road along with successes.

She asked the board and state officials to be patient as Rowan-Salisbury forges ahead.

“We know that all eyes are on us,” she said. “ … We don’t have all the answers yet; it’s a voyage in discovery.”

There will be no major changes in the 2018-19 school year, she said. Instead, the coming year will be planning time.

“We have more flexibility than we’re able to use in the first year,” Moody said.

Once approved, each school will put together a team of teachers who will decide which flexibilities would work best at their school. The district will lay down some guiding rules, but most of the details will be left up to teachers.

“We really want to move innovation at the local level into the hands of our teachers,” Moody said. “… Our teachers are going to drive this innovation, not our district office.”

“Everyone will be a first-year teacher in our district next year,” she joked.

Board members and state officials were full of praise.

“We share your excitement because we know it’s not only a huge opportunity for your district but it’s also a huge opportunity for our state,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said.

Board member Wayne McDevitt said he looks forward to hearing about the journey — both successes and failures.

“I think this is great work,” he said.

Board member Olivia Holmes Oxendine said she looks forward to seeing how the district handles standardized testing and how it tackles student assessment in unique ways.

Board member Amy White thanked Moody and the district for stepping up and “being willing to put the target on your back.”

But board members said they hope the plan will succeed.

“There will be a lot of us rooting for you,” Chairman William Cobey said.

The board will vote on whether to approve or deny the application today. Greg Alcorn, the local State Board of Education representative, recused himself from discussions and decisions on the renewal district plan.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.